"Today, Tennessee Walking Horses are known throughout the industry
as the breed that shows abused and tortured horses."

~ Jim Heird, Ph.D., Do Right By The Horse, February 2010

"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity,
you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men."

~ St. Francis of Assisi

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

THOUGHTS - TWHBEA's Listening Session Responses

This is partially an opinion piece, but in a way it's also based in fact.  I have been reading a lot of the posts about the industry's talks in the USDA listening sessions.  Quite frankly, I don't have sympathy, and here's why.  This is the speech by Marty Irby, president of TWHBEA, from the Maryland listening session.  Some of it hasn't been included, but I found these parts important.  The entire speech is located here.  My comments are in green text.  (Did TWHBEA pay for Irby to attend this one?  And if so, did the members know about it?)


Response For USDA Listening Session on April 9, 2012 in Riverdale, MD from Marty Irby, President of The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association (TWHBEA).

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. My name is Marty Irby, President of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association, headquartered in Lewisburg, Tennessee. TWHBEA is the oldest and most prestigious organization devoted to the promotion and protection of the breed. Founded in 1935, the breed registry was established to record the pedigrees of the Tennessee Walking Horse. Its goal is to maintain the purity of the breed, to promote greater awareness of the Tennessee Walking Horse and its qualities, to encourage expansion of the breed and to help assure its general welfare. TWHBEA’s current membership is comprised of some 10,100 members from all 50 states, and a number of foreign countries.

TWHBEA was the only breed registry in the United States of America to show membership growth in 2011. This above all breed registries including AQHA, Paint Horse Association, Arabians, Morgans, and many more. All other breed registries showed substantial declines. This lends credibility to TWHBEA’s position, and shows strength within our industry to represent the interests of all members from all factions.

TWHBEA is the only National and International Organization whose membership is represented by states and regions, that elect representatives from each area to represent members on our International Board of Directors. There is no other organization or group within our industry that has the stature, numbers, and longevity that TWHBEA does.

Facts, all of the above; nothing wrong with any of that.  Well, I don't agree with the last sentence: the other breed organizations except AQHA and APHA have been around a lot longer and will continue to do so.

TWHBEA stands firmly against ANY reduction in weight or size of the current pads or action device.

So did they take a poll in the membership to ask if members want to see a reduction in weight and size of the current pads?  How do you know that TWHBEA stands against the reduction?

The survival of our registry relies mainly on the performance horse. As the performance horse market has declined over the past 6 years, our annual budget has decreased from $5,000,000+/- to less than $2,000,000 annually. Our breed, horse, and registry will not survive at its current level without the existence of our great performance horse.

Who said the Performance horse is going to go away?  If the USDA were to reduce the size of the pads and take away the chains (which I am all for), the Performance horse still exists.  It just won't look like the crippled spider it does today.  That will be a plus for the breed--you'll get people coming back if the horses look better.

My Grandfather, Dr. Leonidas Euclid Irby, DVM joined TWHBEA in 1955 after he traded a bill owed to him for a Tennessee Walking Horse named Sunset Sue, and our family has remained members of TWHBEA ever since. Our family has been a part of producing nearly 9,000 foals since 1955 through various avenues including my previous five year career as the Director of Sales & Marketing at Waterfall Farms, the largest breeding facility within our industry. I can tell you that based on past informal studies of the major breeding farms that 90% of TWH mares bred, are bred with the expectation that the foals will become future padded performance show horses.

Now that is REALLY sad, since as I understand, only about 10% of the registered horses make it to be Performance horses. This tells me there's a lot of over-breeding going on, and there must be thousands of culls.

If our pads and action devices are removed, TWHBEA, could expect a potential decline in breedings of 60-70% within a period of one year.

HA!  I doubt that, since trail horses are becoming more and more popular.  I understand that at the last big sale in Kentucky, trail horses were selling for double the amount of stacked horses.  I think that says a lot to the industry: maybe you need to start focusing on promoting the TWH as a using horse rather than a stacked freak.

The result of this shock and unintended consequence could possibly lead to the closure of an organization that is now in its 76th year. If this were to happen, the Tennessee Walking Horse would simply cease to exist. Today, our organization is considering leasing part of our facilities to private enterprise, and further cutbacks of our immediate budget. Less than 5 years ago, our organization had nearly 30 employees, and today we have a mere 12 employees.

Big deal.  Why is this the USDA's problem?  You guys are causing it--you're continuing to sore horses, and the USDA has to come in and stop you from doing it somehow.  Perhaps TWHBEA needs to rethink it's plan: stop making the stacked horse the most important and start going back to what the TWH was originally bred for: to be a UTILITY horse.  Start promoting trail horses, driving, endurance...there are thousands of areas you can focus on that would make you money.

The only financial help our organization receives outside of industry sponsors is a minute $30,000+/- annual grant from USLGE which can only be utilized outside of the United States.

OH BOO HOO!  I have ZERO sympathy with this, since your big sponsors are Ford and Pepsi!  Plus ANY other TWH organization would be thrilled to have a grant under their belt!  Maybe you could get more grants if you stopped showcasing your horses as abused freaks!

In today’s economy, and with the pitiful state of the United States of America’s financial situation it very hard to grasp that the USDA would choose to simply put us out of business. Put us out of business. Yes, that is what I said. Our industry and specifically our breeders’ are good, honest, hard-working farmers who are the backbone of our country and the backbone of our industry. Just a few years ago we had nearly 1,000 TWH farmers who owned over 100-200 broodmares each. Today we are lucky if we have 20% of those still involved in breeding horses. Due to the economic state of this country and our industry the average yearling prices have fallen in recent years from $10,000+ to $2,000 or less.

Okay, so you're talking about the economy causing these problems.  But then there is below...

The USDA should be in the business of promoting our horse, helping us thrive and flourish, and not trying to take away what little we have left.

Wait a minute: the USDA is not a business.  They are tasked with enforcing the HPA.  Their job is not to run your business.  In fact, it is YOUR job to END SORING.  Since you clearly won't* do it, the USDA has to step in and do it.  They aren't trying to take away anything: they're trying to stop soring and enforce the HPA.  If their enforcement messes with your current show horse, then that is your fault, not theirs.  *And I say won't, not can't--this industry could end soring if it really wanted to.

As the shift in society has changed from a rural America to a much more urban Bureaucracy, our great country has begun to die a slow death. If all other agriculture is treated as our industry has been, then I doubt very seriously that the good old USA will exist much longer. President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said: “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field.”  While we stand near our Nation’s Capitol I ask the USDA to please take to heart what a great President once said....

YOU ARE NOT FARMERS.  You are producing a product that is a luxury item in today's society.  Horses are not a necessity like they once were.  That quote has no merit in your business.

Again, I plead with the USDA to give serious consideration to economic factors, jobs, horse farmers, and the backbone of our country. Rural America needs you, it needs us, and I challenge the USDA to stand up for our industry and not succumb to the pressures of animal rights activists who have no equity or vested interest.

Actually, there are lots of us out here who have vested interest.  In fact, many small breeders across the country who are breeding for sound, solid trail and show horses are frowned upon because of the soring.  Because soring is well known to be the way TWHs are "trained", then people avoid the breed altogether.

 If you have truly listened to the majority of the responses from all of the recent Listening Sessions then you will see, that the majority of our industry stakeholders want no reduction in size or weight or removal or the current pads and action devices. If you do not listen, then you are simply proving that we have no voice, and that America has already fallen.

Actually, I imagine the majority of the industry stakeholders DO want the pads and chains to be gone.  The continued need to sore the horse in the ring is ruining the breed, not the regulation by the USDA, not those who want a sound horse.  This is YOUR FAULT that your industry is threatened.  You won't stop soring horses, so the USDA is having to enforce the law.  You are blaming the USDA for YOUR actions.  You want the USDA off your back?  STOP SORING HORSES.  It's extremely easy--FOSH, NWHA and the IWHA have done it.  You can too.

Honestly, if I were a member with TWHBEA, I would be outraged that the president is making such ridiculous statements.  I would be ashamed to be a member, since he's blaming the USDA for the industry's problems.  He does not represent the membership--he represents the stacked horse industry and those who bring in money.  That's all he cares about--not the welfare of the horse.  Members: an uprising is necessary here, and I would hope some of you would be willing to do that.  Even if you don't really care for the horse's sake, at least do it for your own breed reputation.  The TWH will continue to be the black spot of the horse industry if this represented attitude continues.


talkingMongo0se said...

Great post.

They are shooting themselves in the foot. More people would look to TWH for the trail horses, as you stated, and horses for older equestrians with arthritis or back problems. It's sad they cling to the stacked horses as an icon and ideal of the breed when it just turns people off all together.

I've met non-horse people who find out I'm an equestrian and personally ask me "What is going on with those TWH?" One elderly woman I met had a friend as a child who's parents bred and trained stacked horses. She told me that image has always stuck with her of the horses moving unnaturally and appearing to be in pain. She met me and asked me, decades later "What is the point?" I explained as best I could and referred to your blog for more answers.

I also highly doubt the breed would go extinct if they did not exist. That seems more than a bit egotistical.

For the Tennessee Walking Horse said...

Thanks, MongoOse. You've hit the nail on the head--the breed would not go extinct if the stacked horse didn't exist. And I think what that woman said is absolutely telling. "What is the point?" I agree. What is the point in continuing to showcase an animal that is clearly in pain with all the negative publicity about it and the USDA being all over them? No one likes the BL anymore aside from those who produce it. It's a new century, and the image needs to go away. There is nothing wrong with starting over, but it seems that egos will continue to cling to what they want rather than what's best for the horse and the breed.

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